Wow, what a ride. I said I could use three months to tackle biblical animals and I stand by that. Today I'm going to give a physical, biblical, and pastoral look at this bird.
The truth about doves
I need to go scientific for a moment.
All animals have a biological classification. Usually the animal is only identified by its genus and species. That's only the last two steps in the classification. These scientific names help us see the connections between different animals. For example, spiders are part of the order Araneae, which is part of the class Arachnida. A scorpion is part of the class Arachnida, but not part of the order of Araneae. All Arachnida are known for their two segmented body parts and their eight legs. Scorpions are in the order Scorpiones. Their order include to pinchers as their front two legs, and a venomous stinger.
Spiders are part of the Phylum Arthropoda. This includes bugs, like ants. However, ants are not part of the order Araneae because they are insects. Insects have three segmented body parts and six legs. I like to use spiders and ants to describe biological classification, because it's easy to see how they are related and different. Spiders are not insects.
What does this have to do with doves and pigeons?
With doves and pigeons we have something exactly opposite happening from the spiders and ants. We can see how spiders and ants come from the same phylum, but branch out in their own class and order.
All birds are from the class Aves. Not only do doves and pigeons share the same order, Columbiformes, but the same family, Columbidae. This means all doves are a form of pigeon. They are so closely related they are part of a Clade. A Clade is a group of organisms that evolved from a common ancestor. Like humans are not clade with gorillas because there isn't a known, or close enough, common ancestor between us. Scientifically the term "dove" or "pigeon" can be used interchangeably. "Pigeon" derives from french, meaning peeping chick. "Dove" derives from the German, and refers to the term "diving bird." A general separator, but not exclusive, are doves are smaller, and pigeons are larger.
Biblically and Theologically speaking...
In Biblical Hebrew and Greek, there isn't a separation between the word dove and pigeon. Did Noah release a bird we would scientifically call pigeon or dove? No idea. Did the Spirit descend like a pigeon or a dove at Jesus' baptism? Hmm.
When we make the translative choice whether to call the bird pigeon or dove, we have chosen dove. Why? Well, there is stigma surrounding pigeons. Pigeons are pests. Companies put spikes on top of some areas to keep these "pests" from creating nests on their buildings and signage. We are warned not to feed them in parks. Doves, however, are magical. We release them during special events. We draw them into our invitations. They appear out of nowhere during a David Copperfield act!
Knowing the strong biological connection with pigeons and doves, and knowing there are gray areas on which this bird is described in biblical text, I think there is something pastoral we can take from this. Pigeons are the birds we want to push aside and forget, much like certain classes of people. I'm thinking mostly of the homeless. Did you know some cities have changed their benches to include extra arm rests in the middle? This isn't to make the bench more comfortable. This is to keep the homeless from sleeping on it. Did these politicians consider a solution for the person who would no longer have a bench to sleep on? No. Even the pigeons have a place to make their nests outside of the company signage. The homeless have nothing. There are cities where it is illegal to feed the homeless in the park. Once again, pigeons can find their food elsewhere, but was there consideration for where the homeless would get their next meal? No. I can eat in a park. Genetically speaking a homeless woman and I are nearly identical. What separates us aside from a home? Stigma and acceptance.
Perhaps we should allow ourselves the opportunity to say pigeon instead of dove when these texts come up. We need to remember God loves those who have stigma attached to them. They are part of the kingdom too. They are part of the same family. They are our Clade.